This Week in the ECAC West

No Hole This Year

Excluding exhibitions, Elmira hasn’t had a winning record four games into the season in any of the last five seasons. It has almost become expected that the Soaring Eagles will start a season slow, build momentum mid season, and end on a tare to run for the playoffs. Unfortunately, sometimes the early season deficit has proven too deep a hole to dig out of.

This season appears to be different. Elmira is off to a 3-0-1 start and did it the hard way defeating nationally ranked teams like Oswego and Neumann. The quick start has created quite a buzz both on campus and in the community, something that has been lacking for some time.

“There is no question that it is a lot better for everyone involved, especially for our guys that have worked so hard during the off season,” said Elmira coach Tim Ceglarski. “They were the impetus behind everything trying to do things a little bit differently.”

The Soaring Eagles began the season with a home and home series against the defending national champion Oswego Lakers. Elmira was in mid-season form, particularly for the first game, and came out of the weekend with a hard fought 2-1 victory on Friday night and 4-4 tie on Saturday.

“The first Oswego game, we played extremely well for sixty minutes,” said Ceglarski. “It didn’t look like Oswego had its legs, but our guys really competed and battled hard for sixty minutes. We changed our fore check three or four times during the game, and generally we’re not doing that until the latter part of the year.”

Then it was into league play this past weekend, hosting an increasingly competitive Lebanon Valley and strong Neumann team. Getting points in the league standings was the primary goal for the Soaring Eagles.

“Our captain, Mike Richard, has been preaching that it is important for us to get points and have other teams chasing us instead of us chasing them,” said Ceglarski.

And that they did, as Elmira swept both teams to earn four points and jump to a share of the top of the league standings. A quick start, indeed.

A School Record

Hobart is another ECAC West team off to a quick start this season. The Statesmen swept a weekend series with Buffalo State to open the season, marking the first time that Hobart has started a season with two victories in over a decade.

Next up was league play last weekend, reversing the order of opponents from Elmira. Special teams were the stars for both Neumann and Hobart last Friday night, as each team tallied three power play goals.

But Hobart tallied the games only even strength goal, with 2:45 remaining in the contest, to steal the 4-3 victory despite being out shot by the Knights 39-25.

The Statesmen were pushed again on Saturday, this time by Lebanon Valley, who used a pair of second period power play goals to make a game of it. But Hobart’s offense proved too much for the Flying Dutchmen and the Statesmen rolled to a 7-2 victory.

With that pair of league wins, Hobart is off to the best start in school history of 4-0. The Statesmen surpassed the school’s previous best start to a season record of three wins set in 1979, when Hobart defeated Syracuse (14-1), Lehigh (6-4), and Penn (3-0) during the team’s second season of play.

“We haven’t started this well in a long time,” said Hobart coach Mark Taylor. “It’s a good start, but we’re focused on playing good and finding ourselves.”

Reaching Out

Not only is play on the ice off to a quick start this season, teams are also already reaching out to the communities that they play in. Community service is an integral ingredient of every ECAC West team.

The life of a college hockey player is filled with an increasing number of demands for the few precious hours during a day. From classes to homework, practices to games to travel, and even a little social life, a college hockey player’s life is quite busy. So why would a coach take even more time away from his players?

“It is three fold why we do these things,” said Utica coach Gary Heenan. “Team building — getting the players outside of the rink hanging out together. Personal fulfillment — handing someone a meal that is a little less privileged than we are is very rewarding. And marketing — being out there in the community, where people can put faces to names and then return to see what we have put back into the community.”

The Utica Pioneers perform a litany of projects every year, from serving meals at an inner city rescue mission, to the Adopt-A-Highway program, to reading to elementary kids. The Pioneers have even played softball against a local prison team, and are in the process of arranging a paintball war against the Utica city police department to raise money for charity.

At Manhattanville, community service is expected, both as a way to give back and also as a growth opportunity for the players.

“Playing college hockey, how much better can your life be?” said Manhattanville coach Keith Levinthal. “I don’t want them to forget how lucky they are. At the same time, not only to have a chance to help other people, but putting them in positions to be role models helps them make better decisions in their own life too. By putting players in front of kids as much as we can, it makes an impact on kids and forces them to do the right things and grow up themselves.”

Valiant players are expected to perform 50 hours of community service each academic year, where giving back to the community is part of the college’s mission.

The Manhattanville players have already participated in multiple projects this academic year. Several players helped with event logistics for the 16th annual Hudson Swim for Life in early September that raised funds for several local charities.

“It was great to get out and help in the community,” Arlen Marshall, a sophomore forward, said. “The community has been very supportive of our team and we are definitely happy to help out wherever and whenever we can.”

The team also participates in the Coachman Project, mentoring teenagers who find themselves temporarily homeless.

Lebanon Valley has also made a commitment to giving back to the community participating in several projects this fall.

Ten players and members of the coaching staff helped Habitat for Humanity refurbish a house that had been damaged by a fire. And fifteen players helped clean up trails at a local wildlife refuge.

“We are getting ourselves in the community a lot more, and are getting support from the college, the community and from those who haven’t supported the program before,” said Lebanon Valley coach Ted Russell.

Game of the Week

As the other four teams, who started league play last weekend, head back out for non-conference games, Utica and Manhattanville get in to the conference swing of things on Friday.

The Valiants are undefeated (3-0-1) but have shown signs of missing the killer instinct of years past. Meanwhile, Utica has another superb penalty killing percentage this season (92.3%) but struggled to score goals in its opening games against Fredonia

The winner will keep pace with quick starting Elmira and Hobart, while the loser will be relegated to the bottom of the heap to start the season.